THE STRING OF PEARLS by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
V. The Meeting in the Temple
Alas! Poor Johanna Oakley—thy day has passed away and brought with it no tidings of him you love; and oh! what a weary day, full of fearful doubts and anxieties, has it been! Tortured by doubts, hopes, and fears, that day was one of the most wretched that poor Johanna had ever passed. Not even two years before, when she had parted with her lover, had she felt such an exquisite pang of anguish as now filled her heart, when she saw the day gliding away and the evening creeping on apace, without word or token from Mark Ingestrie. She did not herself know, until all the agony of disappointment had come across her, how much she had counted upon hearing something from him on that occasion; and when the evening deepened into night, and hope grew so slender that she could no longer rely upon it for the least support, she was compelled to proceed to her own chamber, and, feigning indisposition to avoid her mother’s questions—for Mrs Oakley was at home, and making herself and everybody else as uncomfortable as possible—she flung herself on her humble couch and gave way to a perfect passion of tears.
‘Oh, Mark, Mark!’ she said, ‘why do you thus desert me, when I have relied so abundantly upon your true affection? Oh, why have you not sent me some token of your existence, and of your continued love? the merest, slightest word would have been sufficient, and I should have been happy.’
She wept then such bitter tears as only such a heart as hers can know, when it feels the deep and bitter anguish of desertion, and when the rock upon which it supposed it had built its fondest hopes resolves itself to a mere quicksand, in which becomes engulfed all of good that this world can afford to the just and the beautiful.
Oh, it is heartrending to think that such a one as she, Johanna Oakley, a being so full of all those holy and gentle emotions which should constitute the truest felicity, should thus feel that life to her had lost its greatest charms, and that nothing but despair remained.
‘I will wait until midnight,’ she said; ‘and even then it will be a mockery to seek repose, and tomorrow I must myself make some exertion to discover some tidings of him.’
Then she began to ask herself what that exertion could be, and in what manner a young and inexperienced girl, such as she was, could hope to succeed in her enquiries. And the midnight hour came at last, telling her that, giving the utmost latitude to the word day, it had gone at last, and she was left despairing.
She lay the whole of that night sobbing, and only at times dropping into an unquiet slumber, during which painful images were presented to her, all, however, having the same tendency, and pointing towards the presumed fact that Mark Ingestrie was no more.
But the weariest night to the weariest waker will pass away, and at length the soft and beautiful dawn stole into the chamber of Johanna Oakley, chasing away some of the more horrible visions of the night, but having little effect in subduing the sadness that had taken possession of her.
She felt that it would be better for her to make her appearance below than to hazard the remarks and conjectures that her not doing so would give rise to, so, all unfitted as she was to engage in the most ordinary intercourse, she crept down to the breakfast-parlour, looking more like the ghost of her former self than the bright and beautiful being we have represented her to the reader. Her father understood what it was that robbed her cheek of its bloom: and although he saw it with much distress, yet he had fortified himself with what he considered were some substantial reasons for future hopefulness.
It had become part of his philosophy—it generally is a part of the philosophy of the old—to consider that those sensations of the mind that arise from disappointed affections are of the most evanescent character; and that, although for a time they exhibit themselves with violence, they, like grief for the dead, soon pass away, scarcely leaving a trace behind of their former existence.
And perhaps he was right as regards the greatest number of those passions; but he was certainly wrong when he applied that sort of worldly-wise knowledge to his daughter Johanna. She was one of those rare beings whose hearts are not won by every gaudy flatterer who may buzz the accents of admiration in their ears. No; she was qualified, eminently qualified, to love once, but only once; and, like the passion-flower, that blooms into abundant beauty once and never afterwards puts forth a blossom, she allowed her heart to expand to the soft influence of affection, which, when crushed by adversity, was gone forever.
‘Really, Johanna,’ said Mrs Oakley, in the true conventicle twang, ‘you look so pale and ill that I must positively speak to Mr Lupin about you.’
‘Mr Lupin, my dear,’ said the spectacle-maker, ‘may be all very well in his way as a parson; but I don’t see what he can do with Johanna looking pale.’
‘A pious man, Mr Oakley, has to do with everything and everybody.’
‘Then he must be the most intolerable bore in existence; and I don’t wonder at his being kicked out of some people’s houses, as I have heard Mr Lupin has been.’
‘And if he has, Mr Oakley, I can tell you he glories in it. Mr Lupin likes to suffer for the faith; and if he were to be made a martyr tomorrow, I am quite certain it would give him a deal of pleasure.’
‘My dear, I am quite sure it would not give him half the pleasure it would me.’
‘I understand your insinuation, Mr Oakley; you would like to have him murdered on account of his holiness; but, though you say these kind of things at your own breakfast-table, you won’t say as much when he comes to tea this afternoon.’
‘To tea, Mrs Oakley! haven’t I told you over and over again that I will not have that man in my house!’
‘And haven’t I told you, Mr Oakley, twice that number of times that he shall come to tea? and I have asked him now, and it can’t be altered.’
‘But, Mrs Oakley-’
‘It’s of no use, Mr Oakley, your talking. Mr Lupin is coming to tea, and come he shall; and if you don’t like it, you can go out. There now, I am sure you can’t complain, now you have actually the liberty of going out; but you are like the dog in the manger, Mr Oakley, I know that well enough, and nothing will please you.
‘A fine liberty, indeed, the liberty of going out of my own house to let somebody else into it that I don’t like!’
‘Johanna, my dear,’ said Mrs Oakley, ‘I think my old complaint is coming on, the beating of the heart, and the hysterics. I know what produces it—it’s your father’s brutality; and just because Dr Fungus said over and over again that I was to be kept perfectly quiet, your father seizes upon the opportunity like a wild beast, or a raving maniac, to try and make me ill.’
Mr Oakley jumped up, stamped his feet upon the floor, and, uttering something about the probability of his becoming a maniac in a very short time, rushed into his shop, and set to polishing spectacles as if he were doing it for a wager.
This little affair between her father and her mother certainly had had the effect, for a time, of diverting attention from Johanna, and she was able to assume a cheerfulness she did not feel; but she had something of her father’s spirit in her as regards Mr Lupin, and most decidedly objected to sitting down to any meal whatever with that individual, so that Mrs Oakley was left in a minority of one upon the occasion, which, perhaps, as she fully expected, was no great matter after all.
Johanna went upstairs to her own room, which commanded a view of the street. It was an old-fashioned house, with a balcony in front, and as she looked listlessly out into Fore-street, which was far then from being the thoroughfare it is now, she saw standing in a doorway on the opposite side of the way a stranger, who was looking intently at the house, and who, when he caught her eye, walked instantly across to it, and cast something into the balcony of the first floor. Then he touched his cap, and walked rapidly from the street.
The thought immediately occurred to Johanna that this might possibly be some messenger from him concerning whose existence and welfare she was so deeply anxious. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that with the name of Mark Ingestrie upon her lips she should rush down to the balcony in intense anxiety to hear and see if such was really the case.
When she reached the balcony she found lying in it a scrap of paper, in which a stone was wrapped up, in order to give it weigh, so that it might be cast with certainty into the balcony. With trembling eagerness she opened the paper, and read upon it the following words: ‘For news of Mark Ingestrie, come to the Temple-gardens one hour before sunset, and do not fear addressing a man who will be holding a white rose in his hand.’
‘He lives! he lives!’ she cried. ‘He lives, and joy again becomes the inhabitant of my bosom! Oh, it is daylight now and sunshine compared to the black midnight of despair. Mark Ingestrie lives, and I shall be happy yet.’
She placed the little scrap of paper in her bosom, and then, with clasped hands and a delighted expression of countenance, she repeated the brief but expressive words it contained, adding, ‘Yes, yes, I will be there; the white rose is an emblem of his purity and affection, his spotless love, and that is why his messenger carries it. I will be there. One hour before sunset, ay two hours before sunset, I will be there. Joy, joy! he lives, he lives! Mark Ingestrie lives! Perchance, too, successful in his object, he returns to tell me that he can make me his, and that no obstacle can now interfere to frustrate our union. Time, time, float onwards on your fleetest pinions!’
She went to her own apartment, but it was not, as she had last gone to it, to weep; on the contrary, it was to smile at her former fears, and to admit the philosophy of the assertion that we suffer much more from a dread of those things that never happen than we do for actual calamities which occur in their full force to us.
‘Oh, that this messenger,’ she said, ‘had come but yesterday! what hours of anguish I should have been spared! But I will not complain; it shall not be said that I repine at present joy because it did not come before. I will be happy when I can; and, in the consciousness that I shall soon hear blissful tidings of Mark Ingestrie, I will banish every fear.’
The impatience which she now felt brought its pains and its penalties with it, and yet it was quite a different description of feeling to any she had formerly endured, and certainly far more desirable than the absolute anguish that had taken possession of her upon hearing nothing of Mark Ingestrie.
It was strange, very strange, that the thought never crossed her mind that the tidings she had to hear in the Temple-gardens from the stranger might be evil ones, but certainly such a thought did not occur to her, and she looked forward to a meeting which she certainly had no evidence to know might not be of the most disastrous character.
She asked herself over and over again if she should tell her father what had occurred, but as often as she thought of doing so she shrank from carrying out the mental suggestion, and all the natural disposition again to keep to herself the secret of her happiness returned to her with full force.
But yet she was not so unjust as not to feel that it was treating her father but slightingly to throw all her sorrows into his lap, as it were, and then to keep from him everything of joy appertaining to the same circumstances.
This was a thing that she was not likely to continue doing, and so she made up her mind to relieve her conscience from the pang it would otherwise have had, by determining to tell him, after the interview in the Temple-gardens, what was its result; but she could not make up her mind to do so beforehand; it was so pleasant and so delicious to keep the secret all to herself, and to feel that she alone knew that her lover had so closely kept faith with her as to be only one day behind his time in sending to her, and that day, perhaps, far from being his fault.
And so she reasoned to herself and tried to wile away the anxious hours, sometimes succeeding in forgetting how long it was still to sunset, and at others feeling as if each minute was perversely swelling itself out into ten times its usual proportion of time in order to become wearisome to her.
She had said she would be at the Temple-gardens two hours before sunset instead of one, and she kept her word, for, looking happier than she had done for weeks, she tripped down the stairs of her father’s house, and was about to leave it by the private staircase when a strange gaunt-looking figure attracted her attention.
This was no other than the Rev Mr Lupin: he was a long strange-looking man, and upon this occasion he came upon what he called horseback, that is to say, he was mounted upon a very small pony, which seemed quite unequal to support his weight, and was so short that, if the reverend gentleman had not poked his legs out at an angle, they must inevitably have touched the ground.
‘Praise the Lord!’ he said: ‘I have intercepted the evil one. Maiden, I have come here at thy mother’s bidding, and thou shalt remain and partake of the mixture called tea.’
Johanna scarcely condescended to glance at him; but, drawing her mantle close around her, which he actually had the impertinence to endeavour to lay hold of, she walked on, so that the reverend gentleman was left to make the best he could of the matter.
‘Stop!’ he cried, ‘stop! I can well perceive that the devil has a strong hold of you: I can well perceive—the Lord have mercy upon me! this animal hath some design against me as sure as fate.’
This last ejaculation arose from the fact that the pony had flung up his heels behind in a most mysterious manner.
‘I’m afraid, sir,’ said a lad who was no other than our old acquaintance, Sam, ‘I am afraid, sir, that there is something the matter with the pony.’
Up went the pony’s heels again in the same unaccustomed manner. ‘God bless me!’ said the reverend gentleman; ‘he never did such a thing before. I—there he goes again—murder! Young man, I pray you help me to get down; I think I know you; you are the nephew of the godly Mrs Pump—truly this animal wishes to be the death of me!’
At this moment the pony gave such a vigorous kick up behind that Mr Lupin was fairly pitched upon his head, and made a complete somersault, alighting with his heels in the spectacle-maker’s passage; and it unfortunately happened that Mrs Oakley at that moment, hearing the altercation, came rushing out, and the first thing she did was to fall sprawling over Mr Lupin’s feet.
Sam now felt it time to go; and as we dislike useless mysteries, we may as well explain that these extraordinary circumstances arose from the fact that Sam had bought himself from the haberdasher’s opposite a halfpenny-worth of pins, and had amused himself by making a pincushion of the hind quarters of the Reverend Lupin’s pony, which, not being accustomed to that sort of thing, had kicked out vigorously in opposition to the same, and produced the results we have recorded. Johanna Oakley was some distance upon her road before the reverend gentleman was pitched into her father’s house in the manner we have described, so that she knew nothing of it, nor would she have cared if she had, for her mind was wholly bent upon the expedition she was proceeding on.
As she walked upon that side of the way of Fleet-street where Sweeney Todd’s house and shop were situated, a feeling of curiosity prompted her to stop for a moment and look at the melancholy-looking dog that stood watching a hat at his door.
The appearance of grief upon the creature’s face could not be mistaken, and, as she gazed, she saw the shop-door gently opened and a piece of meat thrown out.
‘Those are kind people,’ she said, ‘be they who they may’; but when she saw the dog turn away from the meat with loathing, and herself observed that there was a white powder upon it, the idea that it was poisoned, and only intended for the poor creature’s destruction, came instantly across her mind. And when she saw the horrible-looking face of Sweeney Todd glaring at her from the partially-opened door, she could not doubt any further the fact, for that face was quite enough to give a warrant for any amount of villainy whatever. She passed on with a shudder, little suspecting, however, that that dog had anything to do with her fate, or the circumstances which made up the sum of her destiny. It wanted a full hour to the appointed time of meeting when she reached the Temple-gardens, and, partly blaming herself that she was so soon, while at the same time she would not for worlds have been away, she sat down on one of the garden-seats to think over the past, and to recall to her memory, with all the vivid freshness of young Love’s devotion, the many gentle words which, from time to time, had been spoken to her two summers since by him whose faith she had never doubted, and whose image was enshrined at the bottom of her heart.
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